Plant Selection

By Jeff Rugg

March 11, 2020 5 min read

This is the final article in a five-part series on houseplants for millennials.

The best place for new gardeners to buy plants is a local garden center or greenhouse. It won't take long before you will be able to recognize which plants will grow well in your house. If you have sunny windows that produce warm to hot temperatures, you will want plants that come from warm, dry climates. Those plants can be quickly identified by their thick leaves, fleshy trunks, hairy leaves or silver fuzz growing on the leaves. All of these characteristics store water or reflect light to keep the leaves cool. Aloes, cacti and sedums fit here, but so do other plants like the red geranium.

Plants with large, dark green leaves usually grow in low-light locations. Leaves that have white or yellow variegations need more light than green leaves because they don't have as much chlorophyll, but too much sun will burn them.

If the plant is a vine, such as ivy, monstera, philodendron or pothos, it will do well in low to medium light. Vines in the forest grow up trees to try to reach more light, so they tolerate low light but crave more.

Plants that are tree-shaped, like ficus or schefflera, will generally want more light. Shrub-shaped plants or plants with all the leaves coming from a growing point near the pot naturally grow on the forest floor and require low to medium light.

When plants come from the wholesale grower's greenhouse or outdoor growing facility, they are typically in terrific shape. If you go into a big box store on that day or maybe even that next week, you can get a good plant at an acceptable price. After the plants have been in most of these stores for more than a week, their quality may decline rapidly. Their price remains the same for several weeks, until they are finally put on a clearance sale.

A few of these types of stores have knowledgeable staff that can care for the plants. These people may or may not get around to doing the work to care for the plants. It does not seem to be a high priority in most of the discount stores I have ever been in. Fewer of these stores have the greenhouse, lighting or watering facilities to properly take care of the plants.

If you know a lot about plants, you can find occasional bargains in these types of stores. Sometimes, there are even unusual plants that are not easily found elsewhere — and at a good price, too. Unfortunately, many plants will look fine for several weeks after they have been mistreated. They may have been chilled or overheated while in shipment; they may have been overwatered or underwatered; they rarely have enough light in the store. Occasionally, they may be infested with spider mites or mealy bugs, both of which are really hard to get rid of once you bring them home to your other plants.

The problem is you don't know the history of how well they were treated before you took the plant home. If the whole plant is yellowing and continuing to turn yellow, the plant may very well be dying from mistreatment with no way to stop it.

At your home, you need to give them proper care, too. Tropical plants may be native to hot conditions, but don't put them next to the hot, dry air from central heating vents. They don't like cold drafts either.

What do you do if you have a tropical plant that seems to be under stress, wilting, losing leaves or has leaves turning yellow? The only thing you can do is give it the proper care a plant like yours should have and hope for the best. Do not give it more or less water, more or less fertilizer, etc., because what seems like tender loving care may push it over the edge. You need to let the plant stabilize in your lighting, temperature and watering conditions. If it makes it, great; if it doesn't, you did what you could. The only other thing you need to do is to check for insects and treat them if you find any.

For more information on houseplants go to

Email questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: KRiPPS_medien at Pixabay

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